The vast majority of Americans believe that public libraries are important aspects of their community. Three-quarters of the population say that public libraries provide them with the resources they need, and 66% say the closing of their local public library would have a major impact on their community.
Pew Research has just released an important new survey of more than 1,600 U.S. adults age 16 and older finds that digital tools and comfortable workspaces are among the resources American library users expect to find at their local libraries. Fully 80% say libraries should definitely offer programs to teach people how to use digital tools such as computers and smartphones; 57% expect comfortable spaces for reading and working; and half say libraries should offer to buy 3-D printers and other digital tools so people can learn to use them.
The analysis also finds that visits to local libraries fluctuate. Overall, 53% of Americans have had some interaction with a public library in the past year – either through an in-person visit, a library website, or via a mobile app. Some 48% of adults specifically visited a library or bookmobile in the past 12 months, up from the 44% who said that in late 2015. And the number of Americans who visited library websites in the previous 12 months fell from 31% who said they’d done so in 2015 to 27% in 2016.
Here are the key findings of the survey;
- The Public is not settled on how books should be treated in their local libraries. 24% of adults support the idea of moving books in order to make way for more community and tech-oriented spaces, but 31% say libraries should not do this.
- The act of borrowing printed books is still by far the most popular activity at libraries, even compared with using computers: 64% of library users ages 16 and older checked out a book in the last 12 months, compared with 29% who used a computer at the library in the same time frame.
- An emerging library “service” is its Wi-Fi connection, which can be used separately from the hours library buildings are open: 7% of those 16 and older say they have connected to a library’s Wi-Fi system when the library building itself was closed.
- 44% of those 16 and older say their public libraries loan out e-books, while 10% say this is not true of their communities’ libraries. Researchers at the University of Maryland report that 90% of libraries have e-book lending programs. So, many of Americans are not aware of this core service available at most local libraries.
- 37% of Americans feel that public libraries contribute “a lot” when deciding what information they can trust, a 13-point increase from a survey conducted at a similar point in 2015.
- 19% of American adults say they have never visited a public library, including 11% of those who have college or graduate degrees.
- 64% of library users 16 and older checked out a book in the last 12 months, but only 29% used a computer at the library in the same timeframe.
- Frequent library visitors include college graduates (59%), women (57%), parents (55%), and those ages 16-29 (55%).
- 33% say that a library closing would have a major impact on their families, a feeling that is especially prominent among Latinos (48%), 50- to 64-year-olds (42%), and those with annual household incomes of $30,000 or less (41%).
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.